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Charles Hughes and Richard Solomon

In case you thought every independently-owned gay bar had shut its doors due to Covid, meet the persistent and visionary married couple behind Lambda Lounge — Harlem’s only African American owned LGBTQ lounge.

Charles Hughes and Richard Solomon are switched on and self-created Black entrepreneurs who are more than well aware of the importance of LGBTQ-owned nightlife spaces, LGBTQ spaces that welcome people of color, and Black-owned LGBTQ spaces.

After all, they came into each other's orbit at Chi Chi's — a West Village gay bar on historic Christoper Street that was welcoming of Black men in a way which wasn't and still isn't common in the Village and many of our "gay golden miles." After an unsuccessful appeal to keep its liquor license in 2010, Chi Chi's closed; and we've all seen the shuttering of LGBTQ bars across the nation exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

But this leaves even less opportunities for Black queer folks to party in public. Even today, when Hughes and Solomon go out to other establishments it is clear the venue is tolerating them for the night — and that's all.


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Gay spaces are important for both Hughes and Solomon. Hughes grew up in the South and struggled to hide his sexuality from his family. Solomon was the first man he brought home to meet them.

Solomon, a New Yorker, had it a little easier with his family. "I had the kind of mom who was like, 'OK, he's wearing my heels...' When I finally went to her with it she said, 'Listen, I've just been waiting for you to say something...' My father is a Jehovah's Witness so it was a little rocky with our relationship, there came the whole 'abomination' thing, and by the time he came around it was really too late, so I don't really have a relationship with my father, it's just me and my mother. But coming out for me was easy. Unfortunately not a lot of people get to experience that. But for me it was, OK I'm out."

And so the Greek Lambda symbol is important to them because they felt that "Rainbow" was a little on the nose. Hughes and Solomon wanted to reach back further and they discovered the history of the Lambda symbol during the immediate post-Stonewall era to signify gay liberation.

"It was kind of like a secret fraternity during that time, which was really dope to me," says Solomon.

"Lambda to me means family," says Hughes. "A unity. When people come in here you pretty much know everybody's names from security to the host to the bartender. It's a gay Cheers. I enjoy it, even though I'm the owner. We talk to each other the same."

When Hughes and Solomon got together, neither had experience in the nightclub business as anything other than as patrons. But both agreed that a nightclub held a certain attraction for gay men as a "home away from home." They especially wanted a relaxed space where queer people of color could come and be themselves.

But how that came about was circuitous.

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First came their vodka brand, Lambda Vodka, a premium spirit that is served in their establishment and used in its signature cocktails. But when Hughes and Solomon started out with the brand they found it to be a mammoth task, from dealing with distilleries to distributors. And when they couldn't get a lot of traction with their vodka in an oversaturated market, someone suggested to them, "Why don't you open a bar and sell your vodka to yourself?"

That worked. Because Lambda Vodka had helped to give them a foothold in Harlem where they had already built a following. When they settled on the premises on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd, they put special thought into the space and its appearance.

"We put a lot of time, effort and money into this space. All the art on the wall is from LGBTQ+ artists who gave it to us and designed the bottles as well."

And the venue has now grown to provide a stylish community space the welcomes different demographics of the community such as the ballroom scene, the drag scene, bears, lesbians, and more.

The bar had previously been 95% gay male but they've seen an increase in lesbians, trans folks, and even some straight women. "I remember once some straight men came in to play the video games and I remember they bought bottles and invited their girlfriends over. We get every walk of life who comes in here to have a good time," says Hughes.

While they have support now, getting the bar established wasn't easy — and when Covid happened and they had to close because the City of New York closed, they were down to their last few dollars when they launched a GoFundMe to try to bail themselves out. "We cried," says Hughes, now laughing a little painfully at the memory.

"We didn't want to ask people for assistance but we finally did it and once we did it for maybe a week, the City opened and we were able to open and generate some funds," says Hughes.

But they have done it all without investors so far. And they'd like to keep it that way so that they retain control. They have high praise for TD Bank who met with Hughes and Solomon and offered them a small business loan.

"They rolled out the red carpet," says Solomon, describing their meeting with the bank's LGBTQ Task Force, and the relationship continues to this day, with Hughes and Solomon featured in the bank's diversity ads.

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It may have been a bumpy ride during the height of Covid, but the community has come out in support of the bar, regardless.

"The moment we opened the doors the line was around the corner," says Solomon. "And it was literally the last straw." They got a special permit from the city and were able to have their patrons out front, safely.

Today, the bar looks welcoming and stylish, with a very cool vibe—almost as if it was easy to set up. If it wasn't easy, at least it was right because they stayed true to the plan, despite the pushback they received when they announced they wanted to set up an LGBTQ+ bar in Harlem, or the doubts they faced about a vodka that was just for the LGBTQ community. But they were adamant about their vision.

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People come to visit the lounge from all over: From Connecticut, from Jersey, and one night there was a man from Africa, who had researched the bar and sought it out when he came to New York.

"It was very emotional and humbling," says Hughes.

Humbling, maybe, but their vision is still grand, and that is to open a Lambda lounge in other metropolitan areas, starting with a megaclub version of the Lambda Lounge slated for Brooklyn, hopefully to open some time in 2022. Stay tuned!

Keep up with news, special events and theme nights here and here.

The Lambda Lounge

Ph: 646-669-8008
2256 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., New York, NY 10027
Info@lambdaloungeny.com

Covid protocols: Proof of vaccination required upon entry

How to talk about transgender issues

So how do we talk about transgender issues (even if you're not transgender)? There are three main things to remember when discussing transgender issues today, so before getting into the meat and potatoes of it all, let's keep these things in mind:

  1. It is not a political discussion, it is a human rights discussion.
  2. There is a rich history rooted in transgender rights that must be considered when discussing these issues.
  3. Humanization should always be at the forefront of the conversation.

Before going into any conversation, no matter who it's with, try to keep these things in mind before you say something that may be inappropriate, misguided, or just plain wrong. Even those with the best intentions can mess up; remember that it is always ok to admit when you do not know something or when you are wrong. That being said, let's get into it.

sign with a 'friendly for all genders' image showing a person in a wheelchair, and a person with half a dress and pants on.

Transgender bathroom bills

commons.wikimedia.org

So whether you choose to become a transgender activist or if you just want to be a better ally, this easy talking point will generally keep you in line and on the safe side of conversations while still putting forth the effort to encourage and better represent transgender rights.

Easy, all-around approach: This will work for almost all transgender issues and expand on the previous three rules; firstly, trans issues are not a debate. When discussing with someone, do not indulge in hypotheticals and always remember that transgender people are the exact same as anyone else, with the exact same feelings. Keeping this in mind, let's use the bathroom bill as an example. When discussing this issue, one should humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation. How does one employ this, though? Here is an example of how the conversation may go.

Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restroom, they will rape my daughters.

So this statement is clearly based on reactionary conversation perpetuated by anti-transgender ideals. This means that the person probably has a misconception of the history and oppression of transgender people. They also show concern for their family, which is a step towards humanization, despite the misconception. Here would be an appropriate response that helps to humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation.

Person 2: I don't want men in the women's restroom, either, which is why we need to make sure people who identify as women are using the women's restroom. There has never been a documented case where a transgender person has raped either a man or woman in a public restroom. And by forcing people to use a restroom that does not match their gender identity, it is promoting violence, as there is a strong history of physical violence against transgender people.

By only saying about three sentences, you are able to do the previous steps while discussing the issue in a civil manner without opening it up to debate. The key to this is to keep it short and sweet, stating both the truth and an ally's stance to support the transgender community. It's critical to make sure that what you say is backed with confidence, though, which is why this second approach is more encouraged as it gives the person speaking more confidence in their opinion.

gif of a man in a suit talking about number 1. Number 1 GIF by PragerU Giphy

The second approach: backed by facts and history, is the exact same as before, but this approach leaves the other person with more questions about their stance and gives them something to consider. Before going into this approach, however, it is important to keep in mind that you are not debating the existence of trans people, nor are you trying to change someone's mind. That is not the goal; the goal is simply to get your opinion across in a way that honors both the trans community and their ideas. Let's take the same example as before but add the new sentiments.

Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restrooms, they will rape my daughters.

Person 2: There has never been a documented case of a transgender person raping anyone in a public restroom, and the only published cases of such were proven to be false. Further, when people say things like this, they are perpetuating violence against transgender people, which has historically (and still does) oppressed and insight further physical violence against them. And honestly, the most common reason there is this stance is because the person typically does not know a trans person and may not even know a person who does know a trans person. But the truth is, they probably do. The probability is more likely that the transgender people around them are just not comfortable enough in the environment to come out and speak up about their gender identity. And yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it is quite sad that some people's opinion does not invite civil discussion but instead incites violence.

This approach is more confrontational, which requires more confidence when using it in a conversation, but it still holds true to all of the previous rules and sentiments. It adds truth based on history, which is an important aspect of trans rights as it reminds people of where we were/ where we are currently with human rights. These ideas can be transferred to most all trans issues and will honor the transgender movement and your allyship. The last thing to keep in mind is the person or reason you are standing up for/with trans rights. The passion -the compassion will shine through in conversation if you keep your reasoning close to heart. Whether it is because of a transgender friend, family member, or just because of your moral values, if you put your emotions into your reasoning, it will create more compelling statements, especially if the statement is well versed with the facts.

Tips to Remember When Discussing Transgender Issues

  1. Transgender issues are not political, they are human rights issues
  2. There is a rich history behind transgender issues
  3. Humanize transgender people through our words and ideas and don't forget to include:
    • 3(b). The facts
    • 3(c).The confidence
    • 3(d). The inspiration behind the support for transgender rights

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Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime

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